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New Book Chronicles the Lives of Jack the Ripper’s Victims

Smithsonian Magazine

All too often, murder victims’ stories are relegated to the footnotes of history, overshadowed by not only their violent ends, but the looming specter of their killers. In The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, historian Hallie Rubenhold sets out to correct this imbalance, placing the focus on Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly—an eclectic group whose ranks include a fraudster, a traveling chapbook seller and a spurned wife who entered the workhouse after discovering her husband’s infidelity—rather than the still-unidentified serial killer who ended their lives in 1888.

“We always start with the murders, then focus on who Jack the Ripper was, to the point that he has become a supernatural creature,” Rubenhold explains in an interview with the Guardian’s Sian Cain. “... But he was a real person, who killed real people. This all happened. And our disassociation from the reality is what dehumanised these women. They have just become corpses.”

Perhaps the most significant takeaway of the new research is Rubenhold’s debunking of a popular myth surrounding the so-called “canonical five”: As Maya Crockett points out for Stylist, Jack the Ripper’s victims are often identified as prostitutes, but in actuality, there is no evidence tying Nichols, Chapman and Eddowes to the profession.

Kelly was the only one making a living as a sex worker at the time of the murders, according to a Penguin Random House blog post. Stride, despite finding herself entangled in a state-run prostitution ring back in her home country of Sweden, pursued alternative paths—including running a coffeehouse and, upon that venture’s failure, masquerading as a shipping disaster victim in order to defraud the well-to-do—upon immigrating to England.

What united these five females, in the words of the Times’ Daisy Goodwin, was not their occupation, but the fact that during the twilight of the Victorian era, “it was all too easy for women to end up sleeping on the streets.” Indeed, Frances Wilson writes for the Guardian, the five’s lives traced the same broad strokes: Born into poverty or reduced to it later in life, the women endured faithless and abusive husbands, endless cycles of childbearing and childrearing, and alcohol addiction. Sooner or later, they all ended up homeless, spending their nights in the winding alleys of London’s Whitechapel district.

Wanted poster seeking information regarding the murders (Public domain)

The Ripper’s first victim, Nichols, was murdered at age 43. According to Stylist’s Crockett, she was a blacksmith’s daughter who grew up in the fittingly titled Gunpowder Alley, a neighborhood known for inspiring the sleazy character Fagin’s lodgings in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. In 1876, Goodwin notes for the Times, Nichols, her husband and their three children moved into tenements built by philanthropist George Peabody to house the “deserving poor.” Unlike most cheap accommodation at the time, the apartment buildings boasted indoor lavatories and gas-heated water.

But within a few short years, Nichols, disgusted by her husband’s philandering, left the relative comfort of home for a workhouse, which Londonist describes as a seedy institution where society’s poorest labored in exchange for food and shelter. After a subsequent spell as a maid, Nichols landed on the streets, where she soon encountered the Whitechapel killer.

Unsurprisingly, the Guardian’s Wilson reports, an inquest into Nichols’ death revealed investigators’ attempts to blame her murder on the transient lifestyle she was leading. As a coroner reportedly asked her former roommate, “Do you consider that she was very cleanly in her habits?” (In other words, Wilson translates, “Was Nichols a prostitute and thus deserving of her fate?”)

Annie Chapman in 1869 (Public domain)

Chapman, the Ripper’s second victim, might have led a middle-class life had she not suffered from alcoholism. The wife of a gentleman’s coachman, she had eight children, six of whom, according to the Guardian’s Cain, were born with health issues stemming from their mother’s addiction. At one point, Helena Horton writes for the Telegraph, Chapman visited a rehabilitation center in search of treatment but was unable to make a full recovery. Alcoholism enacted a heavy toll on her marriage, and by the end of Chapman’s life, she, like Nichols, was sleeping on the streets of Whitechapel, a “fallen woman,” in Rubenhold’s words, destroyed not by sexual transgressions but the equally unenviable label of “female drunkard.”

Stride and Eddowes—victims three and four—were murdered within hours of each other the night of September 30, 1888. Stylist’s Crockett suggests that by the end of her life, Stride, the sex worker-turned-maid, coffeehouse proprietor and finally fraudster, may have been experiencing debilitating mental health issues linked with syphilis.

Eddowes, comparatively, came from a more advantageous background: Thanks to a primary school education, she was fully literate and, as the Guardian’s Wilson notes, able to transcribe ballads penned by her common-law partner, Thomas Conway. The couple roamed England, selling poetry pamphlets known as chapbooks, but after Conway became abusive, the two split up. Astonishingly, some 500 friends and family members turned up for Eddowes’ funeral.

An illustration of Mary Jane Kelly, the Ripper's last victim (Public domain)

Kelly, the Ripper’s last victim, was the only one of the five to be labeled “prostitute” on her death certificate. While all of the others were in their 40s at the time of the murders, she was just 25 years old. Given her age and profession, there is little reliable information regarding her life. But as Cain writes, Rubenhold’s research has led her to believe Kelly narrowly escaped sex traffickers during a trip to Paris. Upon returning to London, she moved between brothels and boarding houses; of the Ripper’s victims, she was the only one murdered in a bed rather than on the streets.

Significantly, Goodwin observes for the Times, Rubenhold dedicates little space to the man who killed her subjects and the gory manner in which he did so. Beyond positing that the women were asleep when murdered, making them easy targets for a prowling predator, The Five emphasizes the victims’ lives, not their deaths.

“At its very core, the story of Jack the Ripper is a narrative of a killer’s deep, abiding hatred of women, and our cultural obsession with the mythology only serves to normalise its particular brand of misogyny,” Rubenhold writes. “It is only by bringing these women back to life that we can silence the Ripper and what he represents.”

Navigantium atque itinerantium bibliotheca, or, A complete collection of voyages and travels : consisting of above six hundred of the most authentic writers, beginning with Hackluit, Purchass, &c. in English; Ramusio, Alamandini, Carreri, &c. in Italian; Thevenot, Renaudot, Labat, &c. in French; De Brye, Grynaeus, Maffeus, &c. in Latin; Herrera, Oviedo, Coreal, &c. in Spanish; and the voyages under the direction of the East-India Company in Holland, in Dutch : together with such other histories, voyages, travels, or discoveries, as are in general esteem; whether published in English, Latin, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, High and Low Dutch, or in any other European language : containing whatever has been observed worthy of notice in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America : in respect to the extent and situation of empires, kingdoms, provinces, &c. : the climate, soil, and produce, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral, of each country : likewise the religion, manners, and customs of the several inhabitants, their government, arts and sciences, publick buildings, mountains, rivers, harbours, &c. : illustrated by proper charts, maps, and cuts : to which is prefixed a copious introduction, comprehending the rise and progress of the art of navigation, and its successive improvements : together with the invention and use of the loadstone, and its variation : originally published in two volumes in folio / by John Harris ..

Smithsonian Libraries
Edited by John Campbell.

First edition, London, 1705.

Imprint varies in v. 2 with the addition of J. Ward at the end of the list of booksellers.

Pagination: v. 1: [12], xvi, [4], 984 p., [27] leaves of plates; v. 2: [10], 1056, [22] p., [34] leaves of plates.

Title printed in red and black; woodcut head-and tail-pieces, initials.

Text in double columns.

Vol. 1 has an initial imprimatur leaf preceding t.p.

Also available online.

SCDIRB copy (39088003699121, 39088004509865) has armorial bookplate of L.H. King-Harman of Newcastle.

SCDIRB copy imperfect: p. 279-280 of v. 1 mostly torn away, p. 467 torn in upper right corner.

SCDIRB copy quarter bound in modern brown goatskin and linen-cloth, title embossed on spine.


Narrative of a tour through Hawaii, or Owhyhee : with observations on the natural history of the Sandwich Islands, and remarks on the manners, customs, traditions, history, and language of their inhabitants / By William Ellis

Smithsonian Libraries
"H. Fisher, Caxton, Printer to His Majesty"--Verso of t.p.

Colophon has variant printer's statement: "Printed at the Caxton Press by H. Fisher, Son, and Co."

First published in 1826.

Frontispiece portrait of author, with his facsimile signature.

UC San Diego. Hill Coll., no. 546

Rodiek, G., Mrs. Library of Hawaiiana, p.14

Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum Preliminary catalogue, pt. V, p. 32 (lists pagination as: vi, 480 p.)

Also available online.

SCNHRB copy (39088015707615) imperfect: p. 457 & 463 torn, affecting text.

SCNHRB copy has gift presentation inscription on front free endpaper.

SCNHRB copy blind-embossed stamp on t.p.: Peabody Museum of Salem.

SCNHRB copy bound in brown-black faux leather binding, title in gilt on spine.


Narrative of Coyote, a Southern Cheyenne man, collected by Truman Michelson, 1931 Summer

National Anthropological Archives
Negative microfilm on file.

Digital surrogates are available online.

Digitization and preparation of these materials for online access has been funded through generous support from the Arcadia Fund.

Narrative of Coyote, a 72 year old Southern Cheyenne man, handwritten in English by Truman Michelson and Mack Haag, also a Southern Cheyenne. The text includes a recounting of the history of the Cheyenne and stories from Coyote's life. Topics include skirmishes with U.S. soldiers, the construction of tipis, hunting, relations between men and women, and his observations of a Sioux Sun Dance at a Brule camp. Although the Bureau of American Ethnology catalog card indicates that this text was collected at the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, it is likely incorrect. The notes are dated June, during which time Michelson was in Oklahoma working with the Southern Cheyenne (Explorations and field work of the Smithsonian Institution, 1932).

Na-pów-sa, Bear Traveling at Night, a Chief

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Musée d’Orsay Renames Manet’s ‘Olympia’ and Other Works in Honor of Their Little-Known Black Models

Smithsonian Magazine

A new exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay places the spotlight on modern art’s oft-unheralded black models, affording these previously anonymous sitters a semblance of agency by (temporarily) renaming classic canvases in honor of their newly identified subjects. Titled "Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse," the show presents works including Édouard Manet’s “Laure,” a subversive nude formerly dubbed “Olympia,” and Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s “Portrait of Madeleine,” an allegorical painting previously known by the generic name “Portrait of a Black Woman.”

As Jasmine Weber reports for Hyperallergic, the Parisian presentation is an expanded version of "Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today," an exhibition that premiered at Columbia University’s Wallach Art Gallery last October. Based on then-graduate student Denise Murrell’s thesis of the same title—born, in turn, out of Murrell’s frustration over the lack of scholarship surrounding black women in the art canon—the New York City show brought together more than 100 paintings, sculptures, photographs and sketches in a study of overlooked black models.

The revamped show has a similar focus, the Washington Post’s James McAuley observes, but carries a different tenor in France, where he says “the state is officially blind to race, both as statistical category and as lived experience.” Drawing on selections from the show’s original iteration, as well as a rich array of related works held in the Musée d’Orsay’s permanent collection, "Black Models" strives to not only shift the conversation toward sitters whose stories are only now being told, but to interrogate the country’s own role in the global slave trade.

Slavery was abolished in the French colonies in 1794 but reinstated under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. It took another 44 years for the practice to be permanently banned. According to the BBC’s Cath Pound, black and mixed-heritage individuals living in Paris during this era were best represented by art, as public records failed to specify race. A Haitian man named Joseph, for example, was reportedly Théodore Géricault’s favorite model, appearing in the artist’s “The Raft of the Medusa” and, following Géricault’s death in 1824, becoming a model at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts.

Laure, the maid depicted at the sidelines of Manet’s provocative 1863 “Olympia,” also appears in two separate scenes titled “Children in the Tuileries Gardens” and “La Négresse (Portrait of Laure).” Writing for The New York Times, Roberta Smith notes that Laure made a clear impression on Manet, who described her as a “very beautiful black woman” and recorded her address in a studio notebook. Manet painted Laure in a manner that revealed her class, status and country of origin without reducing her to the “bare-breasted” black subjects of fantastical harem scenes, but as Murrell tells the BBC’s Pound, the “free, wage-earning woman” seen in these works remained limited by a society still “essentially racist and sexist."

Marie Guillemine Benoist, "Portrait of Madeleine," also known as "Portrait of a Black Woman," 1800 (© RMN-Grand Palais/Musée du Louvre)

The relatively respectful representations of black models seen in these works are, unfortunately, the exception rather than the norm. Speaking with Agence France-Presse, Murrell says that black individuals played a major role in the development of modern art, but their contributions were eclipsed by the use of reductive, “unnecessary racial references” such as “negress” and “mulatresse,” a derogatory term for those of mixed-race descent.

“Art history … left them out,” Murrell explains to BBC News. “[These labels have] contributed to the construction of these figures as racial types as opposed to the individuals they were.”

Benoist’s “Portrait of a Black Woman,” also known as “Portrait of a Negress” but now renamed “Portrait of Madeleine,” exemplifies the tension between treating black subjects as individuals versus racist caricatures. The Post’s McAuley points out that the canvas, painted in the brief period between slavery’s abolition and reinstatement under Napoleon, is often viewed allegorically. Featuring a bare-breasted black woman in a tri-color dress reminiscent of both Liberty and the French flag, the work seems to refer to the recently resolved French Revolution or the impending return of slavery—perhaps both.

At the Musée d’Orsay’s new exhibition, however, the portrait transforms into a rendering of a specific individual: Madeleine, an emancipated slave from Guadeloupe who was hired as a domestic servant by Benoist’s brother-in-law. “For more than 200 years there has never been an investigation to discover who she was,” Murrell tells AFP, even though this information “was recorded at the time.”

Although the central focus of "Black Models" is the crop of retitled portraits, the BBC’s Pound writes that the show also emphasizes black and mixed-race figures who were well-known by their contemporaries. Miss Lala, a mixed-race circus artist whose act found her suspended from the ceiling by a rope clenched in her teeth, is immortalized in an 1879 pastel by Edgar Degas, while Jeanne Duval, a mixed-race actress and singer who was poet Charles Baudelaire’s mistress, appears in an 1862 Manet painting. Moving to photography, the Musée d’Orsay highlights Nadar’s studio portrait of Alexandre Dumas, author of French classic The Three Musketeers and the paternal grandson of a Haitian slave.

If none of these names sound familiar, a large-scale neon installation on view in the Paris institution’s atrium is sure to help cement them in your memory. The work, called “Some Black Parisians,” is the brainchild of American artist Glenn Ligon and consists of 12 giant, glowing names inscribed on two towers. As artnet News’ Naomi Rea reports, some of the 12 refer to famous figures such as Dumas and performer Josephine Baker. Two recognize Laure and Jacob, the still under-studied muses of Manet and Géricault. But perhaps most striking is a Latin phrase written alongside the 12 names: Proclaiming “Nom inconnu,” or “name unknown,” the words serve as a stark reminder of all the black models whose names—and contributions—remain lost to history.

Musician José Feliciano shook up a baseball tradition at age 23

National Museum of American History

José Feliciano will remain forever celebrated for his perennial Christmas classic "Feliz Navidad," one of his many hit recordings that have resulted in 45 Gold and Platinum records and eight Grammy awards. His launch to stardom began 50 years ago, with his hit 1968 recording of "Light My Fire," but it was not until his appearance at a baseball game later that fall that he truly became a household name.

Photo of acoustic guitarIn 1967 this guitar was custom built for José Feliciano. On it, he recorded his first hit in 1968, "Light My Fire," and performed before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series.Jose Feliciano, wearing sunglasses and leather jacket, plays acoustic guitar and sings as three others look on.In 2018, Jose Feliciano welcomed new citizens into the United States during a naturalization ceremony hosted by the National Museum of American History.

Indeed, his early life in Lares, Puerto Rico, and then in New York City, where his family moved when he was five, conjured for him spectacular visions of the brilliant traditions of American music, song, and . . . baseball. So when he was asked to perform "The Star-Spangled Banner" before Game 5 of the 1968 World Series at Detroit's Tiger Stadium, he crafted the most beautiful, and meaningful, rendition that he could imagine. He was only 23 at the time, and his interpretation of the anthem was unexpected, new, different, and vital. It was soulful and searching. Steeped in blues and folk music traditions and seasoned with the percolation of his fingers across a guitar built in the Sunset Boulevard shop of an immigrant family from Torreon, Mexico, his rendition demonstrated the complexity of the American experience as none had before.

The live national broadcast of his youthful and pleading, yet unorthodox, performance reverberated throughout a country embroiled in the Vietnam War, reeling over the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and recovering from the previous summer's civil uprisings in cities throughout the country, including Detroit.

Some were offended by the way he made the song his own. They believed that performances of the anthem should be delivered with the solemn pomp and circumstance of marshal music, rather than incorporate the instruments, vocal inflections, and musical styles found in the more popular genres of the day. They considered Feliciano's version not as heartfelt and sincere, but as an attack on authority and tradition. The day after the game, the Los Angeles Times reported that NBC had "received a rash of calls from irate viewers." One spectator at the game called it "a disgrace, an insult. I’m going to write my senator about it." Another, also quoted in the Los Angeles Times, called it "non-patriotic." Feliciano heard boos from many in the crowd, and stood his ground while interviewed during the event: "I just do my thing—what I feel. . . . I love this country very much. I'm for everything this country stands for."

Others supported him and, through their embrace, Feliciano sent "The Star-Spangled Banner" into the pop charts for the first time ever. As Bill Freehan of the Detroit Tigers put it after the game, Feliciano made Marvin Gaye, who sang the anthem in a conventional manner before Game 4, "sound like a square." The attention that he drew from the performance launched a revolution through the present day for popular artists, from Jimi Hendrix to Whitney Houston to Lady Gaga, to personalize and seek new ways to find meaning in the anthem.

We continue to place great weight in the ritual singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at sporting events—both as an opportunity to express thanks for the sacrifices of those before us, and, through solemn protest, to challenge the country to do better, to continue our march toward a more perfect union. It was Feliciano's 1968 performance, however, that led the way for us all to search and explore together how and why "The Star-Spangled Banner" matters.

Following his keynote address, delivered just a few feet from the flag from Fort McHenry that inspired the anthem, Feliciano performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" on his 1967 Candelas guitar, just as he performed it during the 1968 World Series. You can also find this video on YouTube.

José Feliciano has donated a set of objects to the National Museum of American History that each speak to different facets of his life and career. The objects include the braillewriter that he has used since the 1960s to write lyrics, notes to fans, and love letters to his wife, Susan, who joined us at the donation ceremony on Flag Day. Feliciano has been blind since birth, and his braillewriter was a critical songwriting tool that also contributes magnificently to the museum's growing collection of objects that convey the stories of Americans who are blind. 

Heavy-looking grey/dark green piece of equipment with six typewriter-style keys.Feliciano's Perkins BraillerLetter that starts "My dear Mr. Jose Feliciano, This is the first letter I have written to somebody in film world..." Embroidered in pink, green, and yellow, on black background.This letter was embroidered and mailed to Feliciano in the early 1970s by a member of Japan's José Feliciano Fan Club.


Feliciano talks about the guitar he donated to our collections. This video is also available on YouTube.

Three objects now in our collection represent the extent of his global reach: a pair of his iconic sunglasses, the likes of which have featured on millions of album covers and concert posters throughout both hemispheres; a long-used performance stool that has journeyed with him to concert halls and recording studios all over the world; and a cherished letter from the early 1970s that had hung in his home studio for years—a piece of fan mail embroidered with a message in English from a member of Japan's José Feliciano Fan Club that demonstrates not only the breadth of his global appeal, but also the intense dedication of his fans. Finally, he donated his beloved 1967 Candelas guitar—the guitar that was built specifically for him by famed Mexican American instrument-maker Candelario Delgado. With this guitar, Feliciano recorded his first hit, "Light My Fire." And with this guitar he provided the world that historic 1968 performance of the national anthem.

Acoustic guitar in caseDuring a naturalization ceremony in Flag Hall, Feliciano performed "The Star Spangled Banner" on this 1967 Concerto Candelas guitar before donating it to the National Museum of American History.

John Troutman is Curator of American Music in the Division of Culture and the Arts. He has also blogged about the legacies of James Cotton and Chuck Berry.

Posted Date: 
Tuesday, October 9, 2018 - 10:00
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Motown Turns 50

Smithsonian Magazine

Editor’s note: It’s been 50 years since Berry Gordy founded Motown, a record company that launched scores of careers, created a signature sound in popular music and even helped bridge the racial divide. This article first appeared in the October 1994 issue of Smithsonian; it has been edited and updated in honor of the anniversary.

It was nearly 3 A.M. but Berry Gordy couldn’t sleep. That recording kept echoing in his head, and every time he heard it he winced. The tempo dragged, the vocals weren’t perky enough, it just didn’t have the edge. Finally, he got out of bed and went downstairs to the homemade studio of his struggling record company. He grabbed the phone and rang his protégé Smokey Robinson, who had written the lyrics and sang lead with a little-known group called the Miracles: “Look, man, we’ve got to do this song again . . . now . . . tonight!” Robinson protested, reminding Gordy that the record had been distributed to stores and was being played on the radio. Gordy persisted, and soon he had rounded up the singers and the band, all except the pianist. Determined to go ahead with the session, he played the piano himself.

Under Gordy’s direction, the musicians picked up the tempo, and Robinson pepped up his delivery of the lyrics, which recounted a mother’s advice to her son on finding a loving bride: “Try to get yourself a bargain son, don’t be sold on the very first one . . . . ” The improved version of “Shop Around” was what Gordy wanted—bouncy and irresistibly danceable. Released in December 1960, it soared to No. 2 on Billboard’s pop chart and sold more than a million copies to become the company’s first gold record. “Shop Around” was the opening salvo in a barrage of smash hits in the 1960s that turned Gordy’s humble studio into a multimillion-dollar corporation and added a dynamic new word to the lexicon of American music: “Motown.”

Gordy, a Detroit native, started the company in 1959, deriving its name from the familiar moniker “Motor City.” Motown combined elements of blues, gospel, swing, and pop with a thumping backbeat for a new dance music that was instantly recognizable. Competing for teen attention primarily against records by the Beatles, who were at the height of their popularity, Motown radically altered the public’s perception of black music, which for years had been kept out of the mainstream.

White youths as well as black were captivated by the rhythmic new sound, though the musicians who produced it were black and many of the performers were teenagers from Detroit’s housing projects and rundown neighborhoods. Prodding and grooming those raw talents, Gordy transformed them into a roster of dazzling artists who stunned the pop music world. The Supremes, Mary Wells, the Temptations, the Miracles, the Contours, Stevie Wonder, the Marvelettes, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Michael Jackson—those were just some of the performers who had people singing and dancing all over the world.

In 1963, when I was in junior high school and completely infatuated with Motown music, I persuaded my dad to drive me past Hitsville U.S.A., which is what Gordy called the little house where he did his recording. We had just moved to Detroit from the East Coast, and the possibility of seeing some of the music makers was the only thing that soothed the pain of relocation. I was disappointed to find not one star lolling about the yard, as was rumored to happen, but a few months later my dream came true at the Motown Christmas show in downtown Detroit. A girlfriend and I queued up at the Fox Theater for an hour one chilly morning and paid $2.50 to see the revue. We rocked our shoulders, snapped our fingers, danced in our seats and sang along as act after act lit up the stage. I grew hoarse from screaming for the fancy footwork of the Temptations and the romantic crooning of Smokey Robinson. Today I still burst into song whenever I hear a Motown tune.

No longer star-struck but still awed by the company’s unparalleled success, I recently visited Gordy at his hilltop mansion in Bel-Air, an opulent enclave of Los Angles. We settled into a stately sitting room furnished with a plump damask sofa and large armchairs. An array of black-and-white photographs of family, Motown celebrities and other stars adorned the walls. Gordy was dressed casually in an olive-green sweatsuit. His 1950s processed pompadour has given way to a graying, thinning close-cut, but he remains exuberant and passionate about his music.

Twice during our conversation he steered me to the photographs, once to point out a youthful Berry with singer Billie Holiday at a Detroit nightclub, and again to show himself with Doris Day. Brash and irrepressible, he had sent Day a copy of the very first song he had written, almost 50 years ago, certain she would record it. She did not, but Gordy still remembers the lyrics, and, without any prodding from me, rendered the ballad in his trilling tenor voice. His bearded face erupted into an impish grin as he finished. “With me you might get anything,” he chuckled. “You never know.”

He talked about his life and the music and the people of Motown, his reminiscences burbling forth—stories animated with humor, snatches of songs and imitations of instruments. He told how he shirked piano practice as a child, preferring instead to compose boogie-woogie riffs by ear, and consequently never learned to read music. He recalled how 18-year-old Mary Wells badgered him at a nightclub one evening about a song she had written. After hearing her husky voice, Gordy persuaded her to record it herself, launching Wells on a course that made her Motown’s first female star.

A music lover since his tender years, Gordy didn’t set out to build a record company. He dropped out of high school when he was a junior and spent a decade finding his niche. Born in 1929, the seventh of eight children, he inherited an entrepreneurial instinct from his father. Gordy senior ran a plastering and carpentry business and owned the Booker T. Washington Grocery Store. The family lived above the store, and as soon as the kids could see over the counter, they went to work serving customers. Young Berry hawked watermelons from his father’s truck in the summer and shined shoes on downtown streets after school. On Christmas Eve, he and his brothers would huddle around an oil-can fire selling trees until late in the evening.

After quitting school, Gordy stepped into the boxing ring, hoping to pummel his way to fame and fortune like Detroit’s Joe Louis, every black boy’s hero in the 1940s. Short and scrappy, Gordy put in a tenacious but ultimately unrewarding few years before being drafted. When he returned from the Army, where he earned his high school equivalency diploma, he opened a record store specializing in jazz. Set on attracting an urbane audience, he eschewed the earthy, foot-stomping music of singers like John Lee Hooker and Fats Domino. Ironically, it was just what his customers wanted, but Gordy was slow to catch on, and his store failed.

He found work on the Ford Motor Company assembly line, earning about $85 a week attaching chrome strips to Lincolns and Mercurys. To relieve the tedium of the job, he made up songs and melodies as the cars rolled by. In the late ’50s Gordy frequented Detroit’s black nightclubs, establishing his presence, peddling his songs and mentoring other songwriters. His big break came when he met Jackie Wilson, a flamboyant singer with matinee-idol looks who had just launched a solo career. Gordy wrote several hit songs for Wilson, including “Reet Petite,” “Lonely Teardrops” and “That is Why.” It was during this time that he also met William (Smokey) Robinson, a handsome, green-eyed teenager with a mellow falsetto voice and a notebook full of songs.

Gordy helped Robinson’s group, the Miracles, and other local wannabes find gigs and studios to cut records, which they sold or leased to big companies for distribution. There wasn’t much money in it, however, because the industry regularly exploited struggling musicians and songwriters. It was Robinson who persuaded Gordy to set up his own company.

Such a venture was a major step. Ever since the dawn of the recording industry at the turn of the century, small companies, and especially black-owned companies, had found it almost impossible to compete in a business dominated by a few giants who could afford better promotion and distribution. Another frustration was the industry’s policy of designating everything recorded by blacks as “race” music and marketing it only to black communities.

By the mid-50s the phrase “rhythm and blues” was being used to refer to black music, and “covers” of R&B music began flooding the mainstream. Essentially a remake of an original recording, the cover version was sung, in this instance, by a white performer. Marketed to a large white audience as popular, or “pop,” music, the cover often outsold the original, which had been distributed only to blacks. Elvis Presley rose to prominence on such covers as “Hound Dog” and “Shake, Rattle and Roll;” Pat Boone “covered” several R&B artists, including Fats Domino. Covers and skewed marketing for R&B music posed formidable challenges for black recording artists. To make big money, Gordy’s records would have to attract white buyers; he had to break out of the R&B market and cross over to the more lucrative pop charts.

Gordy founded Motown with $800 that he borrowed from his family’s savings club. He bought a two-story house on West Grand Boulevard, then an integrated street of middle-class residences and a sprinkling of small businesses. He lived upstairs and worked downstairs, moving in some used recording equipment and giving the house a new coat of white paint. Remembering his days on the assembly line, he envisioned a “hit factory.” “I wanted an artist to go in one door as an unknown and come out another a star,” he told me. He christened the house “Hitsville U.S.A,” spelled out in large blue letters across the front.

Gordy didn’t start out with a magic formula for hit records, but early on a distinct sound did evolve. Influenced by many types of African-American music—jazz, gospel, blues, R&B, doo-wop harmonies—Motown musicians cultivated a pounding backbeat, an infectious rhythm that kept teenagers gyrating on the dance floor. To pianist Joe Hunter, the music had “a beat you could feel and could hum in the shower. You couldn’t hum Charlie Parker, but you could hum Berry Gordy.”

Hunter was one of many Detroit jazzmen Gordy lured to Motown. Typically, the untrained Gordy would play a few chords on the piano to give the musicians a hint of what was in his head; then they would flesh it out. Eventually, a group of those jazz players became Motown’s in-house band, the Funk Brothers. It was their innovative fingerwork on bass, piano, drums and saxophone, backed up by handclaps and the steady jangling of tambourines that became the core of the “Motown Sound.”

Image by Michael Ochs Archives / Corbis. Famous for Motown hits like “My Girl” and “Get Ready,” the Temptations spin and glide through their polished choreography at the Apollo Theater in New York City in 1964. (original image)

Image by Associated Press. With his gift for identifying, nurturing and marketing talented musicians, Berry Gordy, a former auto assembly-line worker, turned an $800 loan into a multimillion-dollar company. (original image)

Image by Bettmann / Corbis. Though early recordings lingered at the bottom of the charts, the Supremes produced a breakout number-one hit in 1964 called “Where Did Our Love Go,” a danceable song full of foot stomps and handclaps. (original image)

Image by Apis / Sygma / Corbis. Blind from birth, singer Stevie Wonder (performing in 1963 at age 13) played drums, piano and harmonica, which featured prominently on his first hit “Fingertips (Part 2).” A winner of more than 20 Grammy awards, he still records on the Motown label. (original image)

Image by Michael Ochs Archives / Corbis. In 1960 Smokey Robinson and the Miracles recorded “Shop Around,” one of the early Motown songs that would rise to the top of record charts and help launch the young company. (original image)

Image by Bettmann / Motown. Entrants in a rural Michigan high school talent show in 1961, the Marvelettes within months had delivered Motown its first number one single, “Please Mr. Postman,” in 1961. (original image)

Adding words to the mix fell to the company’s stable of producers and writers, who were adroit at penning squeaky-clean lyrics about young love—yearning for it, celebrating it, losing it, getting it back. Smokey Robinson and the team of Lamont Dozier and brothers Eddie and Brian Holland, known as HDH, were especially prolific, churning out hit after hit chock-full of rhyme and hyperbole. The Temptations sang about “sunshine on a cloudy day” and a girl’s “smile so bright” she “could’ve been a candle.” The Supremes would watch a lover “walk down the street, knowing another love you’d meet.”

Spontaneity and creative wackiness were standard at Motown. The Hitsville house, open round the clock, became a hangout. If one group needed more backup voices or more tambourines during a recording session, someone was always available. Before the Supremes ever scored a hit, they were often summoned to provide the insistent handclapping heard on many Motown records. No gimmick was off limits. The loud thumping at the beginning of the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go” is literally the footwork of Motown extras stomping on wooden planks. The tinkling lead notes on one Temptations record came from a toy piano. Little bells, heavy chains, maracas and just about anything that would shake or rattle were employed to boost the rhythm.

An echo chamber was rigged up in an upstairs room, but occasionally the microphone picked up an unintended sound effect: noisy plumbing from the adjacent bathroom. In her memoirs, Diana Ross recalls “singing my heart out beside the toilet bowl” when her microphone was put in it to achieve an echo effect. “It looked like chaos, but the music came out wonderful,” Motown saxophonist Thomas (Beans) Bowles mused recently.

Integrating symphonic strings with the rhythm band was another technique that helped Motown cross over from R&B to pop. When Gordy first hired string players, members of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, they balked at requests to play odd or dissonant arrangements. “This is wrong, this is never done,” they’d say. “But that’s what I like, I want to hear that,” Gordy insisted. “I don’t care about the rules because I don’t know what they are.” Some musicians stalked out. “But when we started getting hits with strings, they loved it.”

The people who built Motown recall Hitsville in the early years as a “home away from home,” in the words of the Supremes’ Mary Wilson. It was “more like being adopted by a big loving family than being hired by a company,” the Temptations’ Otis Williams wrote. Gordy, a decade or so older than many of the performers, was the patriarch of the whole rambunctious bunch. When the music makers weren’t working they loafed on the front porch or played Ping-Pong, poker or a game of catch. They cooked lunch at the house—chili or spaghetti or anything that could be stretched. Meetings ended with a rousing chorus of the company song, written by Smokey Robinson: “Oh, we have a very swinging company / working hard from day to day / nowhere will you find more unity / than at Hitsville U.S.A.”

Motown was not just a recording studio; it was a music publisher, a talent agency, a record manufacturer and even a finishing school. Some performers dubbed it “Motown U.” While one group recorded in the studio, another might be working with the voice coach; while a choreographer led the Temptations through some flashy steps for a drop-dead stage routine, writers and arrangers might be banging out a melody on the baby grand. When not refining their acts, the performers attended the etiquette-and-grooming class taught by Mrs. Maxine Powell, an exacting charm school mistress. A chagrined tour manager had insisted the singers polish up their show-biz manners after witnessing one of the Marvelettes chomping a wad of gum while onstage.

Most of the performers took Mrs. Powell’s class seriously; they knew it was a necessary rung on the ladder to success. They learned everything from how to sit in and rise gracefully from a chair, to what to say during an interview, to how to behave at a formal dinner. Grimacing onstage, chewing gum, slouching and wearing brassy makeup were forbidden; at one time, gloves were mandatory for the young women. Even 30 years later, Mrs. Powell’s graduates still praise her. “I was a little rough,” Martha Reeves told me recently, “a little loud and a little undone. She taught us class and how to walk with the grace and charm of queens.”

When it came time to striving for perfection, no one was tougher on the Motown crew than Gordy. He cajoled, pressured and harangued. He held contests to challenge the writers to come up with hit songs. It was nothing for him to require two dozen takes during a single recording session. He would insist on last-minute changes in stage routines; during shows, he took notes on a legal pad and went backstage with a list of complaints. Diana Ross called him “my surrogate father . . . Controller and slave driver.” He was like a tough high school teacher, Mary Wilson says today. “But you learned more from that teacher, you respected that teacher, in fact you liked that teacher.”

Gordy instituted the quality-control concept at Motown, again borrowing an idea from the auto assembly line. Once a week, new records were played, discussed and voted on by sales people, writers and producers. During the week, tension and long hours mounted as everyone hustled to create a product for the meeting. Usually, the winning tune was released, but occasionally Gordy, trusting his intuition, vetoed the staff’s choice. Sometimes when he and Robinson disagreed over a selection, they invited teenagers in to break the impasse.

In 1962, thirty-five eager music makers squeezed into a noisy old bus for Motown’s first road tour, a grueling itinerary of some 30 one-nighters up and down the East Coast. Several shows were in the South, where many of the young people had their first encounters with segregation, often being denied service at restaurants or directed to back doors. As they were boarding the bus late one night after a concert in Birmingham, Alabama, shots rang out. No one was hurt, but the bus was peppered with bullet holes. At another stop, in Florida, the group disembarked and headed for the motel pool. “When we started jumping in, everyone else started jumping out,” Mary Wilson recalls, now laughing. After discovering that the intruders were Motown singers, some of the other guests drifted back to ask for autographs. Occasionally, or when, in the frenzy of a show, black and white teenagers danced together in the aisles, the music helped bridge the racial divide.

Though Motown was a black-owned company, a few whites recorded there and several held key executive positions. Barney Ales, the white manager of Motown’s record sales and marketing, was dogged in his efforts to move the music into the mainstream—this at a time when some stores in the country would not even stock an album with African-Americans on the cover. Instead of a photograph of the Marvelettes, a rural mailbox adorns their “Please Mr. Postman” album. In 1961, the single became Motown’s first song to occupy the number-one spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

Notwithstanding Ales’ success, it was three black teenage girls from a Detroit housing project who made Motown a crossover phenomenon. Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard auditioned for Gordy in 1960, but he showed them the door because they were still in school. The girls then began dropping by the studio, honoring all requests to sing background and clap on recordings. Several months later they signed a contract and started calling themselves “the Supremes.”

Over the next few years, they recorded several songs, but most withered at the bottom of the charts. Then HDH merged plaintive singsong lyrics with a chorus of “baby, baby” and a driving beat, and called it “Where Did Our Love Go.” The record catapulted the Supremes to No. 1 on the pop charts and set off a chain reaction of five No. 1 hits in 1964 and ’65, all HDH compositions.

The young women continued to live in the projects for nearly a year, but otherwise their whole world changed. A summer tour with Dick Clark and an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show were followed by other TV spots, nightclub performances, international tours, magazine and newspaper articles, even product endorsements. They soon traded their homemade stage dresses for glamorous sequined gowns, the dusty tour bus for a stretch limousine.

With the Supremes’ slicked-up sound leading the way, Motown proceeded to blaze a trail to the top of the pop charts, keeping pace with the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys. Never mind that some fans complained that the Supremes’ music was too commercial and lacked soul. Motown sold more 45 rpm records in the mid-’60s than any other company in the nation.

Capitalizing on that momentum, Gordy pushed to broaden his market, getting Motown acts into upscale supper clubs, such as New York’s Copacabana, and glitzy Las Vegas hotels. The artists learned to sing “Put on A Happy Face” and “Somewhere,” and to strut and sashay with straw hats and canes. At first they were not entirely comfortable doing the material. Ross was crushed when a Manchester, England, audience started fidgeting while the Supremes sang “You’re Nobody ‘til Somebody Loves You.” Smokey Robinson called the middle-of-the-road standards “cornball.” Others were on unfamiliar territory, as well. Ed Sullivan once introduced Smokey and the Miracles thusly: “Let’s have a warm welcome for… Smokey and the Little Smokeys!”

By 1968 Motown had exceeded all expectations and was still growing. That was the year the company set up headquarters in a ten-story building on the edge of downtown Detroit. Four years later Motown’s first movie, Lady Sings the Blues, debuted. The story of Billie Holiday, played by Diana Ross, the film received five Academy Award nominations. Intent on further expansion into the film industry, Gordy moved the company to Los Angeles. Robinson had tried to dissuade him with a stack of books about the San Andreas Fault, to no avail. Gordy hungered to work his magic in Hollywood.

But the move to Los Angeles was the beginning of the end of Motown music’s golden era. “It became just another big company instead of the little company that thought it could,” Janie Bradford said recently. She started as a Motown receptionist, stayed with the company 22 years and even helped Gordy write one of his early hits, “Money (That’s What I Want).” After relocating, Gordy found little time for creating music or screening records. So much was changing. Lead singers left their groups for solo careers. Some wanted more creative and financial control. Gone were the house band and the cadre of young producers. Many of the performers, now famous, were being wooed away by other recording companies; some were disgruntled about old contracts and earnings, and complained that Motown had cheated them. Lawsuits ensued. Gossip and rumor would pursue Gordy for decades as the once most successful black-owned company in the country began a downward spiral.


In 1988 Gordy sold Motown’s record division to MCA records for $61 million. A few years later it was sold again to Polygram Records. Eventually Motown merged with Universal Records and today is known as Universal Motown. Among the company’s recording artists are Busta Rhymes, Erykah Badu and Stevie Wonder.

The old Hitsville USA house in Detroit is now a museum and popular tourist destination.

Monument Marks Little-Remembered Case That Set Precedent for Asian Americans to Testify in Court

Smithsonian Magazine

Chinese immigrants moved to the territory of New Mexico in large numbers in the 1800s. They came, like so many other diaspora groups, in search of work. But legalized discrimination, through laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, created profound hurdles for them.

That’s why the little-known case Territory of New Mexico v. Yee Shun is so significant. On the evening of February 24, 1882, Yee Shun got off the train in East Las Vegas, New Mexico. The 20 year old, who had emigrated to the United States shortly before, was on his way to Albuquerque in search of a job, but decided to make the stop to check in with a friend, Gum Fing. When he walked into a local Chinese laundry to inquire the whereabouts of Fing, gunfire rang out. Shun ran out of the laundry. Inside, a man named Jim Lee (who was also known as Sam Ling King or Frank) had been fatally shot.

When witnesses placed Shun at the scene of the crime, he was arrested. One of the Chinese immigrants who witnessed the shooting, Jo Chinaman, claimed Shun was the killer. Two other Chinese men who also witnessed the shooting contradicted his testimony.

Shun was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Following an unsuccessful appeal, Shun committed suicide.

The tragedy had an unintended postscript. During his lawyer’s failed appeal, he claimed that Chinaman’s testimony was invalid because he was "of the Chinese religion,” and so his oath could not hold up in court. But New Mexico’s territorial supreme court judge disagreed. He upheld the conviction, and in the process established the precedent that Asian Americans had the right to testify in court.

“The Yee Shun precedent held sway throughout most of the trans-Mississippi West for Chinese litigants, and it was even used to apply to other Asian-American minorities,” write Arif Dirlik and Malcolm Yeung in Chinese on the American Frontier. “In 1909 the Nebraska Supreme Court invoked Territory of New Mexico v. Yee Shun to determine if a Japanese witness, Jack Naoi, could be disqualified ‘for the alleged reason that Japan is a heathen country.’”

Now, this landmark case will be memorialized with a planned public monument.

As Ollie Reed Jr. reports for Albuquerque Journal, the towering 28-foot-tall, $275,000 public sculpture was approved last month. The project has been in the works for several years.

According to a press release, local optometrist Siu Wong, a member of Asian civil rights group Chinese American Citizen Alliance, initiated the project and raised the funds to make it a reality.

“[Wong has worked] to give this court case the place in history that it rightfully deserves,” Bernalillo county public art project coordinator Nan Masland tells

Following a national call for artists, the Asian American Monument Committee of New Mexico selected Cheryll Leo-Gwin and Stewart Wong’s design “View from Gold Mountain.”

Gold Mountain is what Chinese laborers called the greater American West during the Gold Rush period that brought so many to the West Coast in the mid-1800s. But as Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage explains, "the vast majority of Chinese who rushed to the West Coast never got rich from gold. Instead, after arriving on these shores, they laid railroad tracks, worked as itinerant farm laborers and factory hands, cooked food, pressed shirts, and performed other tasks that helped build the American West.”

Now in the final design stage, installation should begin around early 2019 with a spring or summer completion according to Masland. It will be installed near the state district courthouse in downtown Albuquerque.

“When Bernalillo County Public Art was approached to manage this project, we saw the opportunity for public art to be the conduit to elevate awareness of this court case and its significance to civil rights,” Masland says. “A sculpture of this scale has the power to educate and inform the public in an accessible manner.”

In an interview with Hyperallergic’s Claire Voon, Leo-Gwin explains the monument's central metal plumb bob is tilted at a 30-degree angle "as a metaphor for tipping the scales of justice." An object in motion, it ultimately “finds stability and balance.” A braid running vertically along the shape is a nod to the queue hairstyle. Three gourds above the plump bob symbolize the U.S.'s three branches of government.

Despite setting a precedent, the case has remained largely unknown in the larger understanding of American civil rights. Officials hope the new monument will draw attention to its importance.

“The sculpture will inform the public about the contributions that Asian Americans have made to advance civil rights through use of the judicial system,” as Bernalillo County district 3 commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins says in the press release.

Memoirs of an American lady: with sketches of manners and scenery in America, as they existed previous to the revolution. By the author of "Letters from the mountains," &c. &c. ; in two volumes

Smithsonian Libraries
"Strahan and Preston, Printers-Street, London"--Verso of title pages

Pagination of each volume: volume 1. xii, 322, [2] pages; volume 2. ii [that is, vii], [1], 344 pages

Errors in paging: volume 2, page vii is misprinted as ii; volume 2, page 250 is misprinted as 50

Errata for volume 1: page [1] (2nd group) of volume 2

The final two pages of volume 1 are publisher's advertisements

Also available online.

SCDIRB copy (v. 1, 39088004416814; v. 2, 39088004416822) has pages 257-258 misbound between pages 248 and 249 of volume 2

SCDIRB copy has some handwritten annotations in pencil on the front free endpaper of volume 1

SCDIRB copy has contemporary gilt-tooled full leather bindings with gilt-lettered black and green spine labels, with marbled endpapers and edges


Meet the First and Only Foreign-Born First Lady: Louisa Catherine Adams

Smithsonian Magazine

In an electoral season where the presumptive Republican nominee has proposed erecting a wall on the border of the United States and Mexico, not to mention banning those of Muslim faith from immigrating to the United States, it can be easy to forget that Donald Trump is married to an immigrant.

But while those running for the highest political office in the United States must be able to meet just three simple requirements—one of which is being a natural born citizen—there is no such burden imposed on a prospective first spouse.

Melania Trump was born Melanija Knavs in a village in Yugoslavia, now part of modern-day Slovenia, in 1970. A former model, Melania left Slovenia by choice for a bigger European market, living in places like Milan and Paris before a talent agent arranged to get her a visa and an American modeling contract, allowing the 26-year-old to move to New York in 1996.

Melania is not the first candidate's spouse to be from a foreign country; even in recent history, Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the 2004 failed candidate and current Secretary of State John Kerry, boasted of her immigrant heritage. Almost 200 years ago, Louisa Catherine Adams became the first and only foreign-born first lady to claim the title when her husband John Quincy Adams took office in 1825. 

In a strange historic parallel, Louisa also first came to live in the United States when she was 26, only she did so in 1801. She was a new mother and anxious about her place in the Adams’ family, considering the influence that her mother-in-law, Abigail Adams—who already made it clear that she disproved of Louisa and Quincy’s marriage—wielded. Unlike Melania, who has so far been notably quiet in her husband’s campaign for the nomination, Louisa very much wanted to play a role in John Quincy’s election, and indeed, her weekly tea parties helped swing the election in his favor. 


Louisa was born in London, England, in 1775. Her mother was, like her, British-born but her father was born in the colonies, and the family was staunchly supportive of the young republic, staying in France for the duration of the Revolutionary War, which officially began only weeks after Louisa's birth.

While her parents were sympathetic to the fledgling nation’s cause, Louisa was raised the way that “young, pretty, wealthy English girls were raised,” as Louisa Thomas writes in her lushly detailed, authoritative book on the former first lady, Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, which came out this spring.


Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams

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Her upbringing would initially provoke the ire of the Adams clan, direct descendants of the settlers who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and looked down on those who valued worldly possessions. Indeed, just that Louisa was born in London bothered Abigail, who early on referred to her as a “half-blood.” But her almost aristocratic air—honed by following John Quincy on his diplomatic tours in Europe after their marriage—was key for his presidential campaign. While many in the United States also considered her to be a foreigner, they saw her experience as a diplomat’s wife as a novelty, and Louisa used her accomplishments to her advantage.

“She wasn’t an intellectual but she was very intelligent,” Thomas tells Though Louisa was taken out of school at the age of 14 to prepare for the marriage “circuit”, she showed a natural interest in learning.

Like Abigail and John Adams, Louisa and John Quincy engaged in an extensive correspondence throughout their relationship. At first, Louisa was unsure what to write, and self-conscious about her words, but she grew into her voice. Throughout her life, she wrote memoirs and autobiographies, in addition to her many letters, leaving behind a vibrant portrait of her opinions.

Louisa lived during a time when women were not supposed to express an interest in politics, but the scene fascinated her. “She writes these lengthy letters about political gossip, where she spends three pages gossiping about the treasury, way beyond mainstream news of the day, and then denies her interest,” Thomas says.

After the Adamses had an early social faux pas in Washington, though, Louisa began to understand how women could sway politics. Following John Quincy’s appointment as James Monroe’s Secretary of State, both John Quincy and Louisa ignored a custom that demanded that newcomers in Washington make the first social call to all notable persons in Congress. Louisa then experienced a social freeze-out by the women of Washington, and both Louisa and John Quincy initially suffered for the slight. At the time, Louisa wrote, “Indeed I could hardly have imagined that a man’s interests could be so dependent on his wife’s manners,” as Thomas records.

Louisa went about working her way into the Washington social scene, and through the parties she hosted, she became the capital’s “primary hostess,” as Thomas puts it. Her presence seemingly helped compensate for John Quincy’s belief, passed down from his father, that candidates shouldn't actively campaign or in any way express their ambitions publicly.

“He believed that merit alone, not party or political campaign rhetoric, should determine the choice of the American people,” as Harlow G. Unger wrote in John Quincy Adams: A Life. It was a view that made more sense at the time, considering that until 1824, the year of John Quincy’s presidential campaign, the popular vote wasn't even recorded.

That election showed how the balance of power in Washington had started to shift. When the United States of America was first founded, the Constitution and Bill of Rights dictated that citizens should have the right to vote and that the country would have a free press. Except at the time, that meant almost universally that only white men could vote, and, among them, only those that held land. And though newspapers were free to print uncensored content, they were limited in reach and readership.

Come 1824, however, the United States’ franchise had expanded into Native American territory, creating new states and opening up the opportunity for more to vote. Meanwhile, media production boomed, and by 1823, there were 598 newspapers in the nation, allowing citizens to be better informed and more engaged with the politics of the day.

Though John Quincy Adams, the son of a president with a long history of public service, might have once seemed to be the heir apparent to the executive office, the growing populist movement—fed by a growing frustration with banks and business, which was accelerated by the Panic of 1819—made for close competition in the multi-candidate field for the election.

Adams was up against Andrew Jackson, William H. Crawford and Henry Clay. Though those in Washington did not initially take Jackson seriously as a politician, his charisma and victory at the Battle of New Orleans caused the public to rally for the war hero.

Meanwhile, Adams, who cared little for putting on a show, preferring to focus on the politics at hand, did little to curry favor with the greater population. Considering that Democratic-Republicans distrusted him for his ties to Federalism, and most Southerners refused to vote for him because he morally opposed to slavery, his chances for election were looking increasingly bleak.

Louisa became the face of his election. Starting in 1819, she held her “tea parties” every Tuesday night, in addition to hosting balls and other social events. The women in Washington who had once refused to visit her because off her early misstep now became regulars at her raved-about parties. When her brother’s chronic health problems (and her own) forced her to withdraw to Philadelphia, she set up a salon in her hotel parlor there, where important figures in the area would visit to exchange news and discuss the election.

In her letters to John Quincy, she continued to urge him to engage with the public more; she saw the path to victory relied in having Jackson-like charisma, and tried to push her husband toward presenting himself in such a way. “She probably wouldn’t admit it, but she was electioneering,” Thomas notes.

When the votes were tallied, Jackson won the popular vote and a plurality of electoral votes, but as a majority of electoral votes are needed to take the presidency, the House of Representatives was tasked to pick the next chief executive.

Louisa held her last tea party on the evening of Tuesday, February 8, 1825, the night before the House voted. As Thomas writes, based off of John Quincy’s diary, 67 members of the House came to her party, as well as “400 citizens and strangers.”

The next day, the House—led by Clay, the failed candidate and Speaker of the House—voted John Quincy Adams as the next president.

Much has been made over the “corrupt bargain” that Jackson accused Adams and Clay of, for when Adams became president, he made Clay the new Secretary of State. But Louisa’s role has been obscured by history. Without Louisa’s support and social influence, who knows how many electoral votes her husband would have initially curried, causing Clay to rally the vote around him.

The senior Adams famously relied on Abigail’s perspective on issues of the day, but Louisa arguably was more integral to her husband’s election, as she helmed the unofficial campaign. As Thomas puts it in Louisa, “She was not content to be an adviser. She sought a public presence that Abigail avoided, and she chafed when she ran up against its limits."

But whereas his father trusted his wife almost implicitly and Abigail often referred to their property as “ours,” Louisa and John Quincy did not share the same respect. Louisa always felt beholden to John Quincy for lifting her out of the poverty her family had come into before she married him. While she tried to reconcile her own desire for equality with her institutionalized sense of a woman’s place, she struggled.

“She was of two minds about what a women’s role was,” Thomas says. “On one hand, she’s retiring demure, innocent and on the other hand, she’s self taught and has this vibrant intellectual life.”

Louisa grew up in a world where she was groomed to marry and told that women were supposed to stay in their realm. Even with her tea parties, she would not and could not admit what she was actually doing.

Louisa’s time in the White House would be marked by misery. Jackson’s victorious campaign for president in 1828 would begin barely after John Quincy stepped into the White House. The “corrupt bargain” lost him public support, and he had no reliable allies in Congress. Meanwhile, Louisa felt abandoned and neglected in the White House. 

The years following for Louisa were colored by personal tragedy, including her son’s suicide in 1829. While her husband found a second political career as a member of the House of Representatives, and led a crusade for the right to petition against slavery, she did not play a role, rather though she considered slavery a moral sin, she had to contend with her own deep-seated racism.

When she turned 65, Louisa began what Thomas calls her “most ambitious project,” a 70-page memoir titled, The Adventures of a Nobody, which chronicled her history since she first wed John Quincy, preserving her life and efforts for historians to come.

Today, in a time where everything seems to be written down, little is known about the newest foreign-born contender for the First Lady of the United States. As the election heats up though, history will record the role that Melania chooses to play in her husband’s campaign, and what, if any, historic parallels she shares with the woman in her position 200 years earlier. 

Meet Doris Raymond, the Fairy Godmother of Vintage Clothing

Smithsonian Magazine

Walking through the doors of The Way We Wore in Hollywood, California, is like taking a step back in time. Racks and racks of dresses, blouses, pants and shoes from every decade of the 20th century line the walls. In a separate, appointment-only room, over 1 million swatches of inspirational, vintage material pile high. Founded by Doris Raymond in 1981, The Way We Wore has grown from a fledgling boutique in San Francisco to an internationally renowned vintage clothing shop in the heart of Los Angeles. The store attracts all manner of customers, from brides-to-be to influential clothing and costume designers to celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Adele.

Tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET, the second season of "L.A. Frock Stars" premieres on Smithsonian Channel. The six-episode docu-reality series will follow Doris and her team as they travel across the country in search of timeless garments. I spoke with Doris about her vintage journey and what we can look forward to this season.

You mention in the first episode of this season that you’ve been going to auctions since you were eight. What was your path to vintage buying and selling? How did you get into this?

When I was eight, my mother purchased the estate of an apartment—a very old woman had passed away. Her heirs came and took what they wanted and then basically told my mom she could have whatever she wanted for ‘X’ number of dollars as long as she cleared out the apartment. In that apartment was a treasure trove of curio cabinets, jade snuff bottles, paintings, and what happened was my sister and I began the journey of researching like signatures on paintings in our encyclopedias. This was obviously long before the Internet. The thrill of discovering that something that you have is important; that was the seed.

What influences your inventory?

We always have a selection of pretty much the entire 20th century up to the 1990s. Even though fashion can be trend-driven, I tend to buy whatever strikes my aesthetic chord. I look at it more from the universal river of accepted aesthetics. I make exceptions with things that are super kitschy or so wild and ugly that they’re wonderful, but for the most part, I try to keep it in acquiring pieces that have a “wow” factor—something that makes it a little bit more special than what you find anywhere else.

What percentage of your inventory falls into: Someone will like this, I know who will like this, and we should just have this because?

Well I would say the stuff that I buy, I buy thinking that someone will love it, but as far as buying for specific clients that is not even 10 percent. We have certain clients that we know, for example, buy classic size 2 or 4. Or we have one special client who’s requested caftan. We’re always looking for special things, for example, for Adele, and we’ve been working with a gentleman who is the stylist for Lenny Kravitz—so half of them are ephemeral requests and the other half are permanent requests.

Which auctions do you look forward to the most and why? What have you learned in your years of auction going?

Time is of the essence, so I don’t really invest any time in the smaller auction houses because it’s not worth it for me to fly out to preview just for a few pieces. I am a firm believer in seeing the piece in person, and that’s pretty much 90 percent of the time for me.

If I can touch it, feel it and really inspect it, I’ll see things that nobody else sees, and if they’re small, reparable problems, I don’t have an issue with it. I’ve been stuck with so many problems, like labels that have been sewn on so a piece is not what they claim it to be, or perspiration stains. Those are just small examples.

I would say that the auctions that I’m most excited about are the ones in the United States, so that would be Augusta Auction, which was shown in the first season; Whitaker Auction, which is in the second season and is actually the most stuff I’ve ever bought in any auction—it wasn’t because the cameras were rolling—and Hindman in Chicago.

How do you go about confirming that a dress is of a certain designer or a certain period? How much of that comes from previous knowledge and how much of that do you have to look up?

Well looking up is an arduous process, because you either have to go to Paris and go through the archives or you have to go through fashion magazines from around that time period and hope that there’s an image illustrated. To be honest with you, there aren’t that many pieces that I would do that investigation on. It would really be for the haute couture and for the pieces that command higher prices because, you know, your reputation is attached to the authenticity even though you aren’t responsible for changing a label.

You speak of the importance of developing young talent. What’s the store’s relationship with young stylists?

Young stylists or young costume designers or young anything—for me that’s one of the things that I get great joy of, working with the next generation, because it’s I think our duty to feed the fire. I really believe that if you tap into something that you’re passionate about, you’ve got a great chance for success.

What have been some of your most fun buys or styling sessions so far?

This season the cameras were really lucky to be available for me to experience the trip to Chicago that we all took—a lead happened to call in…an ex-model had passed away. It was, in my 34 years in the business, the second best stash of things that I’ve acquired, so I would say that that’s definitely a highlight. That is in episode four, premieres April 9.

Other things that have been highlights: Acquiring a hat and a scarf about 20 years ago and having a hunch that it was an importance piece of art, doing the research and having it confirmed that it was in fact an ensemble that was made by the great Sonia Delaunay, which puts it in the stratosphere of being worth in excess of $100,000.

How many items do you hold onto for a rainy day?

I have acid-free boxes that are stashed in various places in the store, and a good portion of them are '20s and '30s [pieces] without labels. Because of the way that they’re constructed with the couture finish and the elaborate detail—just, they’re beautiful pieces—I’m not selling them. I want to research them.

There’s a museum of fashion next to the Louvre, and they have the most incredible archives that you can make appointments to look through. I actually purchased seven or eight Madeline Vionnet gowns from the 30s and none of them had label. I was 100 percent sure that they were Vionnet, and maybe 15 years ago, I went to research and confirmed all of them through images and photographs. What’s exciting about that is that when you can confirm it, it is no longer an attribution. Attributions are you can ask a little bit more for an attribution, but you certainly can’t ask what it would be if it’s an authentic piece.

Do you have a favorite decade?

I would say Madeline Vionnet’s period—the late '20s to the mid '30s are my favorite, because the garments are so beautifully constructed on an architectural [level]. 

What can we look forward to this season?

I am giving access to a lot of trade secrets, the auction houses for example, what I buy things for and sell things for. Beyond that, I’m honored to be on Smithsonian Channel because they’ve taken and created this show that is a genuine reality show. It’s not scripted; it’s not fabricated. If there’s any drama, it’s genuine.

Tune in to Smithsonian Channel tonight at 9:00 PM ET to catch the first episode of the new season of L.A. Frock Stars and read about all six episodes here.

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Smithsonian Libraries
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Also available online.


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